International clarinet association – clarinet.org
Combining inspiration from British singer-songwriter Nick Drake and childhood stories from her father, composer Gina Schwarz has created a singular, engaging, and completely unique album in Way to Blue. This collaboration began with Schwarz’s residency at the Multiphonics Festival Cologne and the resulting album deftly mixes jazz composition with improvisations spanning from tonal to fully avant-garde. In Schwarz’s words, the album can be thought of as an “independent cycle.” Poetic, composed works like Red Grapevine and Rabbit Trap contrast with improvised chats between pairs of instruments.
In addition to composing and arranging the album, Schwarz also performs as the bassist. An ensemble featuring Schwarz along with upper clarinets, low clarinets, and low flutes gives the music a mysterious, shadowy quality. The reverberant texture adds to the darkness of the sound. Schwarz’s original approach to orchestration results in unexpected combinations of instruments. In Caveman, the clarinet ensemble joins forces with slap tongue in the flute to produce an asymmetrical ballet of sorts, unconventional yet danceable. An echo-filled clarinet solo with klezmer-like orchestrations lies over the top.
The four clarinetists featured on the album, Annette Maye and Mona Matbou-Riahi (B♭ clarinet), Steffen Schorn (contra-alto clarinet) and Thomas Savy (bass clarinet) perform both as soloists and as a clarinet ensemble in tracks like Black Days and Choral. There are many moments in this album of particular to interest to clarinetists. In Rabbit Trap, Eastern European influences color the ornamentation on an extended clarinet solo over an asymmetrical groove. In Blue Sunbeam, a woodwind texture gives way to a chromatic bass clarinet solo. A particular favorite is Chat Six, a single contra-alto clarinet melody (and the only Chat work featuring a single instrument).
Way to Blue is distinctive in its arrangements, its combination of diverse styles, and its remarkable solo and duo improvisations. It is a highly rewarding listen!
Erin Cameron – February 2023